Lawsuit Claims Retaliation by Schools Trustee Marne Foster

Education UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Lawsuit Claims Retaliation by Schools Trustee Marne Foster

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, School of Creative and Performing Arts counselor Kim Abagat claims San Diego Unified trustee Marne Foster abused her position as an elected official and retaliated against her for personal reasons.

San Diego Unified trustee Marne Foster abused her position as an elected official and retaliated against at least one district employee for personal reasons, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Kim Abagat, head counselor at the School of Creative and Performing Arts, names Foster and the school district in the suit, which claims Abagat was suspended without pay in 2014 for writing an unflattering but accurate college recommendation letter for Foster’s son, who was an SCPA student at the time.

According to the suit, Foster used her influence as a board member to get a copy of the recommendation letter, despite the fact the student had waived his rights to view the evaluation.

Because “Foster acted with malice, fraud and oppression, in conscious regard of Abagat’s rights,” according to the suit, Abagat is seeking punitive damages, including attorney fees and pay she missed for her suspension.

“This is what happens when we have elected officials coming into schools and meddling in affairs that are supposed to run by professionals,” said Dan Gilleon, Abagat’s attorney. “Foster clearly was not acting on behalf of the school district. She was acting on behalf of herself and her kids.”

Though the suit is filed by Abagat alone, it details instances of retaliation against former SCPA principal Mitzi Lizarraga, who told VOSD she was reassigned from the school because district officials bent to Foster’s demands.

The suit also names a third employee, James Jacoby, a vice principal who was removed from the school in 2013 shortly after he suspended Foster’s son.

Abagat, Lizarraga and Jacoby have all “become entangled in Foster’s abuse of power in her position at SDUSD as board president and trustee,” the suit says.

Lizarraga and Jacoby aren’t pursuing their own lawsuits, Gilleon said, because the statute of limitations has expired. Abagat was able to file a suit because her paycheck was affected by the disciplinary actions over the college evaluation until May 30, 2015. So effectively, that’s when her punishment ended.

While Marten has admitted that she did receive pressure from Foster to remove Lizarraga, and told VOSD an incident with Foster’s son was “part of” the reason Lizarraga was reassigned, she said she ultimately made the decision based on what she thought was best for the school.

Marten has also argued that Foster was within her rights as a parent to make demands on staff.

Gilleon scoffs at that.

“When Foster signed up for this position, she knew she would have to build a China Wall between her role as a mother and her position on the school board. She didn’t even try to do that. Not until after she got busted for abusing her power,” he said.

District spokeswoman Linda Zintz said that the district doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Foster did not immediately return a call for comment.

The district has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. If the judge doesn’t dismiss the case, the district could fight the suit and take it to trial, or it could settle.

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